It was a beautiful day out with the sun shining and a cool breeze flowing thru open windows as we motored on down the turnpike, using Google maps to get us to our final destination. At exit 5, we were hit with a huge log jam of traffic that was being poorly coordinated by police officers. I say poorly coordinated because most of the police were sitting in their cars doing nothing while one of them tried to police the traffic. Go figure. I was shocked at how many people would be going to Ribfest. I mean, ribs are awesome and all but this traffic was ridiculous! Shortly after making our turn off of the exit, I discovered that the reason for the traffic was that there was also an airshow going on at the same time. You could see various planes circling the skies getting warmed up for the airshow and a 2-for-1 event kinda made up for the traffic delay.
It wasn't until we arrived about 200 yards from the entrance to the parking lot that we saw a sign that advertised the Ribfest. Had it not been for iPhones, Blackberrys, and Google maps, we'd have been screwed on directions. Note to Ribfest organizers - next year have better signage. We parked and headed into the event. There was a $15 entry fee that covered, well, nothing. It got you into the section of the park where all the vendors were set up along with a main stage for live music. We handed in our tickets and walked into the event and were greeted by some young folk who asked, "Do you want to drink?" "Sure", I replied, and they slapped a wristband on my wrist. No I.D. needed. Awesome.
We don't need no stinkin' I.D.
First Class First Aid
With a band on stage shredding thru their version of "Freebird", we made our way through a bunch of retailer tents where people were hawking wares like bonsai trees, cowboy hats, jerky, spices, and t-shirts. I'm a jerky fan and stopped by the Fatman & Mike tent to check out what they had to offer. The Fatman and his buddy, Mike, hooked me up with a sample of their jerky which was sweet on the tongue followed by a little spicy heat. They use lean beef cuts rather that fatty ones so the jerky is a lot less chewy. I enjoyed that a lot since chewing fatty jerky can often be similar to chewing on rope in its consistency. Jackie was into their spice rub, so they offered us a "2 for $10" deal on the jerky/rub combo which saved us each a buck, the only time we would save anything all day.
Next order of business - cold beer. Miller Lite tents were scattered throughout the event and it was fairly easy to get a beer. At $5 for a 12oz Miller Lite or a Fosters, perhaps most people were avoiding the beer tent? Or maybe it was the annoying dude that was behind the counter, asking people what they wanted, giving them their total cost, and then being sure to add, "plus tip". I guarantee that this booth missed out on a lot of tips thanks to this douchebag. Every time I got a beer and he said that he pretty much guaranteed that I wasn't going to leave a tip. Had he kept his mouth shut just one time I'd have tipped but he blew it for himself.
We walked by some horses and horse riders and made our way over to the real reason we were here. Twelve "Ribbers" and their booths formed a nice line and offered up all sorts of options from ribs to chicken to samiches, as many called them. We decided a "divide and conquer" plan would be the best way to sample as many ribs as we could so we each picked a booth and returned to one of the many picnic tables to share our bounties. Here are the first sets of ribs that we sampled:
Huckleberry Hillbilly BBQ
Skin N' Bones
Porky N' Beans
My least favorite of all of these ribs were the ones I picked, Huckleberry Hillbilly. Go figure haha. They were overcooked and pretty dry and the Key Lime BBQ sauce didnt really pack much of a key lime taste at all, though this Ribber did win Best Sauce later on in the day. I really enjoyed all 3 of the other rib offerings. The Aussome Aussie ribs were sticky sweet and super tender. Skin N' Bones were different than the rest in the bunch in that they had a killer dry rub on them that was fine on its own. Even though these ribs didnt really need any sauce at all, the flavor was enhanced when dipped in one of the 3 sauce options that Ms. Jackie brought along, my favorite being the spicy bbq sauce. I also liked that these ribs had some major meat on the bone. My favorite ribs of the entire day, however, were the Porky N' Beans ribs. These suckers were sauced well with a smoky, not-too-sweet, sauce that carmelized on some of the edges for a chewy, concentrated effect that I loved. They were also fall-off-the-bone tender and melted in your mouth with little chewing necessary which is key when you're inhaling ribs like we were.
After another round of beers and a quick cameo by Anice of @epicuriouschic fame, David and I decided that we need to sample more ribs so that our guts would protrude more and allow us to fit in better with the crowd. Paula was also interested in the ribs offered by Blazin' Broncos since they had a huge line outside their booth. David went with Pig In, Pig Out, who also had a "Ribsicle" at their tent that we somehow managed to avoid. I went with Willingham's, who also had a long line outside their tent. It was in this line where I met Chuck, a part of the Willingham's team and a guy who is all about ribs and barbeque. He gave us "2 reasons why we were in his line" and then pointed to the banners on each side of their booth that indicated the awards these ribs had won. He also talked about the smoking and cooking processes they used and included some fun math exercises for the kids in line. Nice guy and definitely passionate about his ribs. I thought this second round was just OK. I didnt know if it was because my belly was reaching mass capacity or if it was because I had already had some killer ribs but these ones just didnt do it for me. Willingham's had the best flavor in my opinion but they were a little dry. The others were also just OK.
Pig In, Pig Out
Chuck droppin' serious rib knowledge
The last Blazin' Bronco
I was pretty full at this point and luckily so was everyone else. We took a walk and checked out some of the booths we missed along with the band on stage that had just gone country with Chuck Wicks crooning to a diverse audience, warming them up for Tracy Lawrence. I have never heard of either of these guys but they weren't bad. I liked the earlier bands better though. The tiny walk we took freed up some room in my belly for my favorite veggie - corn on the cob. Paula joined me at the roasted corn booth where our corn cobs were dunked in a bucket of clarified butter and presented to us. I housed my corn so fast that Paula likened it to the old cartoon where those black crowes eat corn like it was a typewriter haha. The corn was damn good though, with large kernals and a nice buttery flavor. Embracing my inner Ribber, I tossed the empty cob in the garbage, belched, and wiped my mouth with my shirt. Booyeah!
We waited around to catch a bit of the airshow and listen to the big winners at the Ribfest. Blazin' Broncos took the top spot in the rib category, followed by my favorite, Porky N' Beans. Aussome Aussie took 3rd place, so I guess we nailed right ribs by sampling all 3 of the top Ribbers. This video of the airshow was captured by David.
Ribfest was a good time, albeit a somewhat expensive one. I think I spent close to $100 on admission, beers, ribs, jerky, and corn. I guess it was a small price to pay for a good time far removed from the gates of the city, especially after I bought a kickass cowboy hat on our way out. Yee-haw!